Imagine the scene - it’s coming towards the end of 2000 and you’re a fly on the wall of SSL’s offices in Knutsford. A team from McCann- Erickson is paying a visit to discuss the concept for a new Durex campaign. Pleasantries are being exchanged and coffee consumed. A plate of biscuits sits on the table, untouched by polite hands, devoured by hungry eyes.
The conversation dies. A long second of silence ensues, eventually broken by the sound of someone clearing their throat.
“Right,” the culprit continues, engaging the eyes of everyone in the room, “here’s the idea.”
Cue quick pause for dramatic effect.
“We dress a couple of thousand blokes as sperm and have them charge along a street. Then, just as they’re about to engulf a girl, this huge condom stops them in their tracks. What do you think?”
Somebody reaches for a biscuit ... it looks like a Rich Tea.
Being a fly, you get bored of this and decide to stretch your wings. You spot a dog evacuating its rear end in the street outside and head off for a closer inspection. You bump into the window, you keep bumping into the window. The end.
Now, apart from illustrating that my story-telling is as entertaining as stepping in that dog’s “evacuation“, this introduction should demonstrate the leap of faith that Durex made to facilitate the “hundred thousand reasons” campaign. The agency’s concept was highly original, even groundbreaking, for the sector, and the client had the balls (pretty big ones judging by the enormity of its sperm) to turn its back on convention and embrace the unknown.
As most of the users of their product will acknowledge, “he who dares wins“, and this bold decision certainly paid off for both them and their agency at that annual carnival of creativity that is The Roses.
SSL and McCann-Erickson Manchester ended up putting in a trophy-winning turn that Steve Redgrave would be proud of, snatching two gold awards (including the coveted Grand Prix) and three silvers. The Bonis brigade then stamped their authority on the rest of the proceedings, collecting one gold and two silvers for their self-promotional piece, Can at McCann-Erickson, and two bronze awards for The Samaritans “phone a friend” and the Teacher Training Agency’s “hand dryer“. All in all, it was an awesome display of force that had the industry Davids putting away their creative catapults till next year, and giving Goliath a well-deserved clap. The folk at SSL were keen to provide their own standing ovation.
“We’re obviously very pleased with the success at the Roses,” exclaimed an understandably upbeat John Flaherty, marketing manager for Durex UK. “The greatest reward is seeing that the campaign is actually working, but it’s also extremely gratifying to be seen as a creative advertiser. It’s good for us and it’s good for McCann’s. It sets a high standard for everyone to aspire to.”
With my surreal fly-on-the-wall episode still buzzing around my head, I imply that it must have been a real leap of faith - a brave decision on both parties’ parts. “Yes, I think it was,” Flaherty concurred, “but we really wanted to change the way that people communicate in this sort of marketplace. We were keen to appeal to a younger audience and contemporise the brand and to do this we needed to take a radical step away from tradition. Therefore, we took the emphasis off the “act” itself and McCann’s came up with an irreverent way of getting the message across. It was a bold step but it was well-researched and we believe it’s changed the attitudes that we wanted it to.” Brownie points in the bag for the agency then.
The night’s other real creative cats were from Nottingham’s Big Communications and McCann-Erickson Bristol. Both got their egos stroked, but Big may be purring the loudest as their haul of two silvers (four including those collected by new media arm Fuse Digital) and three bronzes was secured for high-profile drinks client WKD. The manufacturer’s munificent media budget ensured that the judging panel were already familiar with the grin-inducing executions, and we would hope that their success on the night ensures that the cats continue to get WKD's financial cream. For the time being, the drinks are clearly on them.
If WKD is slap-bang in the centre of the “budget radar screen” then the Glenbrook Bonsai Nursery is a faint blip on the periphery, barely perceptible to the naked eye and ear. Nevertheless, good ideas have a habit of shouting their quality at judging panels and shouldering past most of their bigger budget contemporaries. This was certainly true of McCann Bristol’s work for Glenbrook.
“I’m jealous I didn’t do such a big, simple idea - congratulations to all involved,” was the candid assessment of chairman of the judges Guy Moore, of Malcolm Moore Deakin. He deemed the work “his own personal favourite“, and as such it scooped the new Ray Sale Award (in tribute to the late chairman of Mediaedge:CIA Manchester). Icing was lavished onto McCann’s cake as the concept also grabbed the gold in the “low budget” category. Certainly a miniature campaign, in more ways than one, but with a huge idea - well done indeed.
Moore and his judicious jury (namely Peter Gausis of Abbot Mead Vickers, Lee Hanson of Mustoe Merriman Levy, Mark Cooper from Ogilvy and Mather, Duckworth Finn Grubb Water’s Simon and Matthew Welch, Ray Barratt of Barratt Cernis, AKQA’s Mike Redpath and our very own Richard Draycott) distributed plenty more kudos on the night with the full list of winners doing a lap of honour on the following page.
However, this year it was really McCann-Erickson Manchester's event. We’ll have to wait another year to find out who, if anyone, can stop them from making the next Roses another “French letter day“. But who’s got the spunk to do it - I guess only time will tell.